Start-up was inspired by his father’s failed business

Khalifa Crafted Founder Ladan Khalifa

Khalifa Crafted Founder Ladan Khalifa holding some of his products during the interview at his office in Nairobi on October 18, 2022.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Starting a business only for it to fail for whatever reason, is one of the most heart-rending misfortunes in an entrepreneur’s life. But for Ladan Khalifa, 32, the failure of one business was the birth of his, a truly disguised blessing.

“I always knew I did not want to pursue formal employment and had plans to try my luck in business rather than focusing on formal education, however, my father was of the contrary opinion and had me enrol for a business administration degree. At the time, he had a leather belt manufacturing business, so aside from my studies, I requested to join him in the business’s operation,” says Ladan.

It is here that he acquired the skills to craft leather products, skills that would eventually help him establish his own enterprise, Khalifa Crafted, which manufactures custom-made leather items such as belts, wallets and card holders, as well as branded clothing such as t-shirts and sweatshirts.

“The biggest customer for my father’s business was local supermarkets, however when some of them started experiencing financial difficulties, I raised the alarm and shared a few ideas with him on how he could safeguard his business against any unforeseeable misfortunes.”

His father, having been in the craft for more than 10 years, dismissed his ideas, depending instead on his experience. When they disagreed on the direction the business should take, his father fired him. Unfortunately, as Ladan had foreseen, most of the supermarkets his father supplied collapsed, and left him counting losses.

“While still working at his business, I learnt how to select quality leather and where to source materials. Besides that, I decided to increase my knowledge, and towards the end of 2018, I started watching video lessons from individuals making hand-crafted leather products in the US and the UK,” he explains.

Own branded items

With this new set of skills, Ladan had the idea to start making his own branded items, but to avoid competition with his father, he decided to make other products such as wallets, with the exception of belts.

“I had suggested that we start making these products together, but when I realised he was not interested, I decided to make them on my own,” Ladan notes, adding,

“As I did not have a lot of capital to source my own materials, I used to buy offcuts from my father, which were cheap, and repurpose them into wallets, which I would then market online and amongst my friends.”

As he was making these items from his father’s premises where there were other employees, he would wait until everyone else left, after which he would make his products. This, he says, was to avoid giving other employees the notion that they could use the facility to make their own products.

When his father fired him, he found himself at a crossroads. He tried venturing into other businesses such as baking, furniture making and painting, but all these did not pick enough pace to be self-sustaining and to sustain him as well. At the same time, he was also burning through his savings.

“I was lucky, however, as my mum helped me get back to the family business, which meant I could get back to making my own product,” he says.

Many things happened within the last few months of 2019 as Ladan registered his company, Khalifa Crafted Limited, and shortly after, the family business collapsed. “So here I was in Ongata Rongai where the manufacturing was taking place making just a few products of my own. The other employees had lost their jobs, the machines could not be moved, the business had collapsed and my father was still paying rent.”

Come February 2020, Ladan says his father decided to give up on the enterprise entirely, and informed him he would stop paying rent for the premises.

“It is at this point that I decided to expand my business. I got into an agreement with my father for him to lease me the machines, and in return, if he got orders from any of his clients, he would outsource the service from me. At an initial cost of Sh50, 000, I bought leather, and with the skills I had, started my business ‘officially’.”

He notes that at this time, he had managed to grow a good network online to help him market his products. With the proceeds of the business, he was able to keep manufacturing going, increase sales as well as add stitching and a laser-guided engraving machine. He also managed to hire a few people to help with operations, to the current number of six employees.

“Currently our products are men’s wallets, which cost between Sh1,400-Sh1,800, card holders, going for Sh700-Sh1,300, women’s long wallets for Sh2,800, passport holders, which cost Sh2,700, cheque book holders going for Sh3,300, and belts for Sh2,000. All these products are handcrafted and branded as per the customer’s request.”

He drives most of his sales online through the enterprise’s social media platforms, Khalifa Crafted, but also makes bulk production for a few local shoe and clothing businesses.

“One of the biggest challenges I faced was breaking away from the family brand to establish my own brand. Apart from that, there is also a lot of mistrust surrounding online trade in Kenya, as well as competition from counterfeit products. I am glad, however, that more and more people are getting to understand the need to invest in good quality products despite the price tag.”

Ladan says that with the future in mind, he is in the process of acquiring more machines to help with the branding of clothing in-house as currently, this is outsourced. He also wants to start production of bags, especially for women, which he notes will give his brand more exposure as most of his current products are hidden most of the time, even while being used, for instance, wallets and belts. 

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